When you start a business, one of the first things you think about is your business name. This has an impact on several things, but the most important of these is your domain name, also called a web address or a URL (Universal Resource Locator).

I always recommend that new business owners (and new website owners) make sure that the name they have chosen is available to register. If it isn’t, then you should either choose a domain name that’s close to what you wanted, or choose another name for your business. Researching available domain names and available business names should be done basically simultaneously to avoid choosing something that’s already been registered.

I’m going to be talking about domain name ownership, how it works and what it means. I’m also going to share insight I’ve gained into how some other developers handle the process, and what I do.

This post is specifically going to talk about new domain names and the purchase thereof.

How Domain Name Ownership works

I’m not going to delve into all the tech, but it’s important to understand the basics, so I’ll cover that.

Domain names are purchased from Internet Service Providers (ISPs) or from a registrar.

Domain names are registered in a database, along with the details of the owner. When you register your domain (I also refer to this as “buying a domain name”), you enter your personal details into an online form, and upon finalising the purchase, the information is saved to the ISP’s systems.

The details you are required to submit include your name, physical address, email address and contact number, as well as credit card/debit card/cheque card details that the company will use to process payments.

Paying for a domain is a yearly fee to ensure that the owner still requires the name and is using it. If you fail to pay your annual renewal fee, the name expires, and after a while it becomes available again for repurchase by someone else. GoDaddy has a useful Help Article about registering an expired domain name.

It is possible to cancel your domain name. You merely contact the company you’re registered with and request to cancel it. You are then no longer liable for the monthly hosting fee and the yearly renewal fee.

It’s not possible for 2 different people to own the same name, otherwise servers wouldn’t know which website to deliver when a user enters an address into the browser search bar. So it’s important to create a unique URL when registering a domain.

How some other developers do it

I know of a few developers who work this way, but I know not everybody does. So, this isn’t a blanket statement about every other developer out there.

When starting a new project, they purchase the domain name and add it to their own account that they have with the Internet Service Provider. They then own this domain name as it’s registered in their name and attached to the account that they own.

This proves problematic if, in the future, the client would like someone else to work on their website. What happens then is that the client, or the new web designer, contacts the original web designer, and they refuse to hand over login details. They’re entitled to do this, because technically the domain does belong to them.

However, I take the view that this is unethical. The client has paid for a domain name, and has paid for the work to be done and the site to be designed. This – the domain and the site – becomes their intellectual property that is handed over once the website design and development work is complete.

How I do it

Compared to some other developers I know, I take a different approach. I set my clients up with their own account with their hosting provider (I give them an overview of costs at 3 different hosting providers as well). This does come with its own set of challenges, however.

Following my process means that I need to ask clients for their personal details quite early on to be able to set up the account and register the domain. To be honest, I’m not a big fan of doing this as it feels to me like a sudden invasion of privacy. I always explain that I’m going to ask for personal details and why I need to do it, which puts my clients at ease. I delete all personal data once the account setup is complete, and I only retain the login details – which I need to begin the project.

My process ensures that the domain name is registered under my clients’ names and that the domain and account belong to them, which makes more business sense to me. The client is then able to claim ownership of the asset that is their website. (I wrote an article on why a website is a business asset.)

In Short:

There’s a good number of ways I work differently to other web designers I’ve seen, but I think this one is one of the fundamentally important ones.

I think it’s vital to have your domain in your own name and/or your business name. You then have claim to the intellectual property of the name and the brand. This is obviously important for a slew of other reasons I won’t go into here.

When you work with a web developer, ask them to register an account for you with your service provider of choice, or ask your developer to recommend a few service providers. I don’t think that this is being difficult as a client, I think it’s smart as you’re protecting your business and website in the future.

melissa de klerk

Melissa De Klerk

Writer, Web Designer, Digital Media Strategist, Typophile, Inspiration Junkie, Yogi

Melissa is the owner and creative brain behind Fox & Owl Media. She loves creating content strategies and has considerable experience with Website Design and Brand Management.

You can contact her here, and find her on social media by clicking the links below.

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